Like you, we at the Maine Council of Churches have only had a short time to receive and consider Governor Mills’ April 27 announcement that as of Sunday, May 1, “limited, drive-in, stay-in-the-car religious services” are permissible.  Already, leaders of two of our member denominations have advised their congregations NOT to hold such services.  We emphasize that it is extremely important for clergy, lay leaders and church members to look first and foremost to their own denomination’s leadership for guidance and direction.  With that said, we wish to express our serious concerns about the safety risks inherent in a parking lot service where worshipers stay in their cars and we are urging congregations NOT to conduct such services during the pandemic

Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church says it so well in his April 29 message: Those who follow the Way of Love seek to “inspire all and imperil none.”  We are convinced that drive-in, stay-in-your-car worship services have the potential for a high risk of virus transmission and could imperil many: ourselves, our fellow church members, and by extension, our entire community, including and especially the most vulnerable among us: the elderly, those being treated for cancer, those with asthma, COPD or diabetes, smokers, and those who are immunocompromised, to name but a few.  We can “inspire all” by making the sacrifice of continuing to refrain from in-person worship, a very real and powerful way to demonstrate our love of neighbor.

For those congregations who still feel compelled to hold a drive-in worship service despite these very real and serious risks to their own health and threats to public health, and for those clergy and lay leadership councils who believe they are capable of enforcing 100% compliance with all safety measures during a service, we implore you, for the good of the rest of us, institute and enforce strict safety rules, including:

  • Anyone who is sick—even if they don’t know for sure they have COVID19—should not attend or lead a drive-in, stay-in-car religious service.  They should stay home.
  • Only individuals from a single household should be in each vehicle—no car-pooling.
  • Vehicles must be parked six or more feet apart and attendees must remain in their vehicles at all times (no use of restrooms—keep church buildings locked). 
  • All worshipers, worship leaders, and musicians/singers must wear masks, including for singing*.
  • Worship leaders should maintain a minimum of 6 feet social distance from one another and from worshipers’ vehicles.
  • There should be no choir and no wind instruments; non-wind instrumentalists and vocal soloists should be more than 12 feet apart from one another, from worship leaders, and from vehicles and wear masks.*
  • Nothing can be passed between vehicles (e.g., offering plates, paper programs, etc.).
  • No vehicles can block driveways or designated routes to/from driveways.
  • Vehicle windows should be rolled down no more than two inches, especially if occupants will be singing (we advise against communal singing at such a service)*.

* Communal singing poses serious risks!  Scientific evidence shows that the forceful breathing action of singing disperses the plume of aerosolized droplets from a singer’s mouth much further than six feet.  Public health officials have said that masks can’t completely contain such forcefully expelled mist.  Tests have proven that microscopic ‘droplet nuclei’ that can contain the virus remain suspended in the air for up to 3 hours.  After a March 10 choir practice at a church in Washington state (where no one was coughing, sneezing or noticeably ill), despite the use of hand sanitizer and social distancing, and refraining from hugs and handshakes, within five days, 45 of the 60 choir members contracted COVID19, three were eventually hospitalized and two died.  Infectious disease researchers categorized this rehearsal as a “super-spreading event.”  No congregation wants their worship service to become such an event, so please make decisions accordingly!